North Korean officials recently announced that the country was on the verge of testing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that could reach the United States. President-elect Donald Trump drew a line in the sand. “Won’t happen,” he said on Twitter. If North Korea attempts to test an ICBM, the United States has a number of options to stop it. All carry risks.
Trump’s red line mirrored past statements from policymakers. Ten years ago, future Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Defense Secretary William Perry wrote, “Should the United States allow a country [North Korea] openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not.”
How close is North Korea to an actual nuclear ballistic missile and what are the president’s military and policy options? Let’s take a look.
North Korea is researching a variety of missiles that with research and development could be converted into ICBMs. In February, North Korea launched a satellite into orbit aboard its 28-meter, three-stage Unha rocket.
“Several U.S. four-star commanders have said North Korea has, or we must assume they have, the ability to reach the continental U.S. with a nuclear warhead with the Taepo Dong (Unha) missile,” said Bruce Klinger, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. The Unha has a range of 10,000 kilometers, sufficient to hit the United States. Klinger argues that the range might be closer to 13,000 kilometers, enough to reach the East Coast.